When you employ staff or engage volunteers, you must keep written records. It is easier to maintain confidentiality and ensure that the record is kept securely if you keep only one file or record about each person – and locate all files in one place.
Records containing data on people are subject to the Data Protection Act and amongst other provisions under this legislation, should be 'accurate, up to date and kept no longer than is necessary'.
You must also ensure that your filing system is lockable, any electronic records are password and virus protected and that only those people who need to use the data have access to it.
There are specific rules laid down about the length of time you should keep personnel and other related records. Refer to the CIPD Factsheet 'Retention of personnel and other related records'.
The paper-based file of a member of staff is likely to contain the following documents.
- A copy of the signed/dated contract of employment, terms and conditions, references, job description, CV/application form, essential checks, confirmation of right to work in the UK etc
- A signed/dated copy of the employee’s agreement to any changes to their employment contract, ie hours of work, job description etc
- Copies of probation reviews, notes of supervision and appraisal meetings (dated)
- Signed copies of agreement(s) to policies and procedures
- Personal details, ie home address, next of kin, contact details of the person to contact in an emergency, diversity record etc
- Records relating to live discipline and grievance issues
- Pension and payroll records
Remember that under data protection legislation, employees have a right to look at their personnel file. For further information on data protection, see the Information Commissioner's Office website.
Sensitive personal data
The Data Protection Act 1998 also covers the rules regarding use of 'sensitive personal data'; that is data that consists of information about an employee's:
- racial or ethnic origins
- political opinions
- religious beliefs
- trade union membership (or non-membership)
- physical or mental health or condition
- sex life or sexual orientation
- criminal (or alleged criminal) activities
- criminal proceedings, criminal convictions (or any sentences imposed by the courts).
Sensitive personal data must not be held on a personnel file without the employees express consent – unless held to comply with an employer's legal obligations. This data may also be retained for so long as may be necessary for the original purpose.
Published with permission from Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness. This material is taken from Tools for Success: doing the right things and doing them right, published in October 2008. Download or buy your copy from Cass Centre for Charity Effectiveness.